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    The art of saving shelter dogs at An Act of Dog
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    Mark Barone and Marina Dervan are co-founders of the non-profit “An Act of Dog” which strives to make our country a no-kill nation for shelter pets.

    An Act of Dog co-founders Marina Dervan and Mark Barone.

    Mark has been an artist for over 30 years and has been featured in top art publications as well as winning awards for his work. Many of his pieces are hanging in private and corporate collections all over the world.

    Besides being such an accomplished artist Mark is also well known for his consulting work for cities across America in showing them how to use the arts to revitalize areas that are becoming run down and blighted. In Kentucky one can see the results of Mark’s vision in the successful revitalization of Paducah in the “Paducah Artist Re-location Program”. If you haven’t been to Paducah lately you would be very pleasantly surprised to see this town as it is today.

    Marina worked 20 years in the high powered business world coaching Corporate Executives in Wall Street and North America, London, and Continental Europe. She knew how to turn people’s problems around and steer them back on to the road to success.

    Mark Barone's late pet Satina's large portrait will be the gatekeeper to the exhibit.

    There is one event in Mark and Marina’s life that turned their entire focus and talents towards saving shelter dogs across the country. Mark’s 21 year old little dog Santina passed away in 2010. After moving to New Mexico to live Marina decided to go online to search for a new dog for Mark. What she found would change their lives forever. While searching she was finding out about a tragic story that is played out across the country every day in animal shelters. A staggering number of shelter dogs are euthanized every day in this country, that number comes to about 5500 dogs a day being put to death. After a passionate discussion of this tragedy they decided to try and come up with a solution to the problem thus they combined both of their considerable talents and the non-profit An Act of Dog was born. Mark and Marina soon realized that in order to pull this off, it was going to require 100% commitment from them both; which meant giving up their jobs and income, cashing in all of their retirement savings, and living frugally for a few years, and maybe forever.

    Basset Hound Grant was killed for food bowl aggression, a simple problem to fix. He will be included in the ten large murals that explain why shelter dogs are killed along with each dog's own story.

    What is An Act of Dog? Mark is putting his huge talent as an artist to work and is currently in the process of painting 5500 portraits of shelter dogs who did not make it out of shelters alive in studio space provided by the Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the same number of dogs killed in America each day. When you look at each of these pieces of work the dogs’ personalities jump out at you. They exhibit playfulness, sadness, but the eyes are what grabs your attention, those soulful eyes. His work is amazing and up until this project was launched he had not painted dogs before; but his passion about saving other shelter dogs from the same sad fate is evident in each portrait so that the subjects of his paintings will not have died in vain. At the time of my interview with Marina 3300 paintings had been finished over a two year period. When you look at all those paintings it is quite an emotional experience to understand that dogs portrayed in the paintings, such as Spuds whose sad soulful eyes haunt you, did not get their happy ending. Getting the collection finished is phase one of the project.

    An emotional mosaic of shelter dogs' portraits. They did not get their happy ending.

    The goal for the once completed 5500 paintings is to have them displayed in a permanent museum devoted to raising funds for no-kill rescues and shelters across the country to help them save more animals. The paintings will be reproduced on shirts, cards, and other products to be sold via an online store with the goal of raising $20,000,000 plus with 100% of funds to be distributed nationally to no-kill facilities and rescues. This would allow the museum to continue funding well into the future. Phase two has them looking for cities to be a host to this museum and willing to subsidize the costs of getting permanent space and getting it open to the public. The biggest and final goal of this museum is to become an educational platform for ushering our nation to a no-kill platform that spends tax dollars on more positive solutions to the unwanted pet problem.

    A group of smaller portraits of shelter dogs who did not make it out of shelters alive. They did not die in vain as their portraits speak volumes for the No-Kill movement.

    An Act of Dog has a number of wonderful supporters in Louisville helping them to get their project completed. They are so very grateful to those who share in their vision and have helped them including John Clark, owner of the Mellwoods Art Center for donating their work space for the past 26 months, Tammi and Tabby Lewis Conti, John Conti, Colin and Woo Speed McNaughton, and Becky Brown, all banded together to pay their rent for both housing and studio for the next 7 months, in order to help them finish painting the exhibit. Credit must be given to Tara Bassett and Terri Cardwell who have been the most extraordinary supporters, who were instrumental in setting up meetings with local influential people and for continuing to find a way to keep this wonderful organization in Louisville. Angie Fenton, Wil Heuser, and Tonya Abeln, are the dynamic trio, who gathered 150 influential people in Louisville, for a party at An Act of Dog’s studio, and wrote fabulous articles in local publications to bring attention to this project. Last but not least are the many supporters who continue to share the project’s story on social media such as facebook and Twitter.

    Portrait of Spuds who was euthanized. The sad soulful expression in his eyes should be enough to convince Louisville that this is an extraordinary cause to support. One of my favorites.

    This project has received national attention having coverage in USA Today, and will have an article published in Oprah’s “O” magazine, as well as be included in a new National Geographic book. They will continue to seek media coverage to garner more support for this one of kind worthy cause.

    If you want to help them out and keep up with what is happening at An Act of Dog you can do so by going to their facebook page here or to their website here.

    Mark painting a large mural of Oreo. She did not make it out of the shelter alive. Her portrait will be one of ten 8' by 8'  paintings explaining the reasons shelter dogs are killed along with her story.

    Phase two means working on support for the museum to be located in Louisville or other visionary cities. There has been quite a bit of interest in Shelbyville, Kentucky to have a combined facility with An Act of Dog museum space with a horse rescue in the Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World. I hope there are philanthropists and city officials in Louisville who would give the needed financial support for subsidizing this project, not only for its wonderful collection of paintings, but more importantly for its compassionate goals in saving lives. In the end the reason Mark and Marina picked Louisville to begin their project is because Kentucky ranks at the bottom in terms of animal protection laws. Wouldn’t this be a fine way to try and fix that? Come on Louisville let us rally to have this worthy and meaningful one of kind museum right here in Louisville where it was born.

    Photos: Courtesy of An Act of Dog

    Sandy Dolan's picture

    About Sandy Dolan

    Owner of Cedar Ridge Farm which operates a children's horseback riding lesson program in Greenville, IN. I have been involved with equine welfare and rescue activities. We have successfully rehomed at risk horses and retrained off the track thoroughbred racehorses in new careers in hunter/jumper, eventing, dressage, and barrel racing disciplines.

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